United States President Donald Trump speaks during a pandemic briefing on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, USA, on August 3, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The Trump administration is taking steps to give Tele Health a broader role under Medicare. The ordinance calls for Congress to make doctor visits about personal technology an integral part of the program.
President Donald Trump's regulation signed on Monday applies to a segment of Medicare beneficiaries – people living in rural communities. But government officials said it was a signal to Congress that Trump is ready to support key laws that would permanently open telehealth as an option for all people with Medicare.
His government "is taking measures to ensure that telehealth stays here," Trump said.
The Monday regulation also launched an experiment where rural community hospitals could receive a more predictable flow of Medicare payments to perform better at certain quality standards.
The steps are modest – far behind the health plan that Trump promised in his election, but which could not be implemented. Even so, Trump is trying to send a signal to voters in rural areas, where long road trips to medical care are common, that he has not lost sight of their interests.
The telemedicine measure instructs the Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Human Services and the Federal Communications Commission to work together to build the infrastructure to support telemedicine in rural communities.
The aim is to permanently expand the types of services that can be provided via telemedicine. Officials said examples include emergency rooms, nurse consultations, and speech and occupational therapy.
Medicare has expanded its coverage of telemedicine across the country as part of its coronavirus pandemic contingency plan. However, this expansion will end in most places once the public health emergency ends.
The administration has the regulator to permanently expand some services in rural areas, but Congress needs to sign a more comprehensive program that makes telehealth a regular option for people in cities and suburbs. There is cross-party support for this, but it is unclear whether anything can happen before the November elections.
Medicare statistics show that telehealth was popular. Officials extended payment for such services to ensure the safety of the elderly at home and to avoid the risk of contracting the virus by going to a doctor's appointment. In the last week of April, 1.7 million Medicare recipients trusted telemedicine. Before the pandemic, there were only thousands.
In a statement, Medicare administrator Seema Verma predicted that telemedicine will be the modern equivalent of home visits.
"Doctors made frequent home visits at an earlier age," she said. "Given how effectively and efficiently the healthcare system has adapted to the advent of telehealth, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is ready to revive this tradition in a modern way."